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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Vermillion Visionary Featured in Nationwide Young Farmers Profile

The South Dakota Blogosphere's Flying Tomato gets some good national press: Mother Nature Network features Rebecca Terk as one of its "40 Farmers Under 40" (Terk is #39!). The article spotlights young farmers who shatter the stereotype—actually the statistically accurate representation—of agriculture as an old man's field.

Even the USDA recognizes that fewer young people going into farming reinforces the pattern of concentration of ownership, which is bad from pretty much any perspective you choose:
  • free market—less competition;
  • public health—owners have less immediate contact with the land, less attention to the environment and sustainable land management, not to mention more crowded feedlots;
  • biodiversity—more huge monoculture fields and proprietary GM seed;
  • small-town economic sustainability—fewer farm families, fewer kids in school, fewer folks coming to town to buy groceries and hardware.
Rebecca Terk and the other young farmers MNN features are exactly the demographic South Dakota should be recruiting. These young people want to farm. They want to take care of the earth. Bring them to town, and they may not buy a hundred-thousand-dollar combine, but they'll buy a tiller and lumber, groceries and clothes. They'll have kids to fill our classrooms.

And young farmers will be invested in the land and the community in a way that a lot of other workers we might recruit can't be. A typical factory or office job can disappear with the snap of your fingers... or more likely, the snap of someone else's fingers, in a corporate office thousands of miles away. The farm economy can hit hard times, too, but a young farm family has much more autonomy to make its own decision whether to keep making a go of it on land they themselves have bought and tilled and worked themselves to exhaustion on.

Terk has previously gotten me thinking wild thoughts about rebuilding a community of small farmers here in Lake County. Imagine if we could recruit just those forty farmers to come to Lake County and homestead a section divided into small plots for small-scale, sustainable agriculture. What would Lake County get from an infusion of people like this:

...they sometimes work as educators, eco-entrepreneurs, yogis, journalists, filmmakers, activists and doting parents on the side. They're passionate and adventurous. And most notably, they're focused on sustainability and community building [Matt Hickman, "40 Farmers Under 40," Mother Nature Network, 2009.07.21].

I know passion and adventure scare some of my neighbors. I also know some of my neighbors think big is the only way to go in agriculture. Sure, big machines can do a lot more farming than a woman and a man picking peas by hand. But big machines don't put kids in your schools or life on Main Street. Big machines won't keep small-town South Dakota alive.

Congrats, Rebecca, on making the news... and making the future.

Learn more about Rebecca Terk and Flying Tomato Farms in Erin Heidelberger's wonderful three-part feature from 2008 on Prairie Roots.

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